Mahabharat (1988)
Directed by B.R. Chopra

Artistic & Entertainment Value

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Synopsis & Analysis
B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat, originally serialized on Indian television, is a ghastly mutilation of one of the great classics of world literature. Even without reference to the Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic upon which Chopra's soap opera is ostensibly based, the serial is stunningly atrocious. The acting is abysmal. The sets and costumes are ludicrous. The pacing is glacial. In fact, Chopra has demonstrated an ability unseen since the passing of Ed Wood to make every wrong decision possible when directing a film.

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With little money at his disposal for the production, Chopra spray painted chairs gold, purchased an arsenal of plastic armor and weapons sufficient to open a Caesar's Palace in Delhi, and disguised the actors playing older characters with laughable white cotton ball beards. He constructed sets so cheap as to be outshone in quality by many built by grade school children for class plays and so tacky casino owners would find them gaudy. Peter Brook had little money available for his adaptation of the Sanskrit epic, but, unlike Chopra, he opted for simplicity and restraint, which qualities bring a severity to his production which adds to the worth of his film. Chopra opted for tackiness. There is no reason why a limited budget must detract from the quality of a movie. Simplicity can be a virtue. One need look no further than the traditions of Classical Indian drama, where stylization is employed in place of sets, which are virtually non-existent, to see how to make skillful and beautiful use of austerity.

Even if these horrendous choices are ignored, the miniseries remains dreadful. The acting is universally bad and the script is atrocious. The complex personalities of the epic are reduced to exaggerated, vacuous caricatures. Moments intended as dramatic are comic. The most potentially exciting battle sequences are tedious. Chopra manages to include every fault that could possibly be found in a film. There is truly nothing good to say about his miniseries.

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What is more, Chopra's soap opera bears very little resemblance to the Sanskrit epic. Insofar as I am able to tell, the director has drawn his inspiration from the comic book version of the Mahabharata serialized in India by Amar Chitra Katha, a publisher of popular religious comics. He does not appear to have been familiar with the epic itself. Even visually, the miniseries is derivative of the comic books, resembling them in its colors, set designs, and, interestingly, in the exaggerated poses frequently adopted by the actors.

Whether a viewer is familiar with the Sanskrit epic or not, Chopra's miniseries should be avoided. Anyone who takes his soap opera as reflecting either the content or the quality of the poem will be greatly misled. The miniseries bears little resemblance to the literary work. Peter Brook's Mahabharata, though flawed, is based on the Sanskrit epic and is closer to the original in both narrative and spirit. It is also a far better film.

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Chopra has created what is possibly the worst adaptation of a literary masterpiece ever to have been filmed. He has vomited forth a work without merit and has done a disservice to one of the world's greatest literary achievements. Chopra's Mahabharat cannot even be enjoyed for its badness. It is simply too tedious.

Review by Keith Allen

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